We have learned in our study of Revelation that Domitian was ruling the Roman Empire at the end of the first century when John was exiled to the island of Patmos. We’ve also discussed Domitian’s hatred of the Christians of his day and his plan to establish himself as the most venerated and adored among his subjects. Seutonius said, “He (Domitian) loved to hear, ‘Hail to the Lord…’” Domitian employed poets to write about him. The poet’s entire job consisted of writing praises to the emperor. One of Domitian’s court poets wrote, “May I gaze upon Thee, hope of mankind, and favorite of the gods.”
In Domitian’s desire to be recognized as “Lord and God” he picked a city that would be his headquarters, the “Neokoros” (Temple Warden) of emperor worship. Domitian understood the power of images so he concentrated his efforts on establishing his image in Ephesus. Domitian’s father, Vespasian, had built an image of himself to be worshipped in Ephesus, but Domitian decided that he would make the image of himself even bigger. He built a platform, a massive platform, and carved into the sides of this platform were statues of the 24 major Greek gods and goddesses. On top of the platform, standing on the shoulders of the Greek gods and goddesses if you will, was built the massive 27 foot statue of Domitian. There are pieces of the statue preserved in a museum to this day. The arm alone is 9 feet tall. If you came to Ephesus by sea and landed at the port, the first thing you would see would be the massive statute of Emperor Domitian reminding you that he is “Lord and God.”
Domitian had a problem because there was a small group of people in Ephesus who refused to bow down to him. One historian, a man named, Ethelbert Stauffer, has written,
Domitian was the first emperor to understand that behind the Christian movement there stood an enigmatic figure who threatened the glory of the emperors. He was the first to declare war on this figure…
To apply pressure on the Christians, Domitian had altars built in Ephesus, incense altars. You have to remember from our study of Ephesus that the city was a major, thriving, metropolitan city where travelers traded their wares, where students were trained in medicine, and where there were major worship centers built. Ephesus is where the East met the West. The goods that were produced in the East were needed by those in the West and Ephesus was the place where the buying and selling took place.
When Domitian would visit Ephesus he would parade through the city with 24 heralds before him crying out, “Our Lord and our God.” He would stop in front of one of the altars that he had had built and the crowd was expected to bow down and acknowledge him as “Lord and God.” Domitian would then proceed on to the next altar and the same routine would take place. If you refused to bow down then Domitian would have you killed.
I mentioned that Ephesus was a major trade center and the epicenter of trade in Ephesus was the Agora, it was the Mall of America in Ephesus. In order to buy and sell in the Agora you first had to make an offering to Domitian. The incense offering was to show your allegiance to Domitian and to acknowledge that Domitian was “Lord and God.” Most people believe that there was some sort of mark, maybe some sort of ink stain on the hand, that let the merchants know that you had paid homage to Domitian, and could now engage in commerce. (Adapted from Rob Bell’s sermon, “Domitian Is God?”)
Christians didn’t want to participate in this ritual, but the question was, “Do I make the offering so that I can buy and sell?” How did families who needed to eat deal with this situation? How did Christian merchants who needed to sell their products to take care of their families cope with this dilemma? How did farmers who needed to sell their produce to make money so that they could provide for their families deal with this situation? You either had to participate in emperor worship and acknowledge that Domitian was “god” or you risked not being able to feed your family, you were shut out of the marketplace. Let’s turn to our Scripture for today to see if we can see any similarities in what was taking place in Domitian’s day and in the vision John had in Revelation 13:11-18.
11Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. (Revelation 13:11-18 NIV)
Do you recognize any similarities between the condition that Christians in the first century faced and the vision John had in Revelation 13? I guess! Let’s turn our attention to the second beast, who some call “the False Prophet.” From studying Revelation 13:11-18 we learn some characteristics about this beast. We see that this beast comes out of the earth instead of the sea. He had “two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon.” He came with the full authority of the first beast, he was his representative. He made the people of the earth worship the first beast. The second beast performed great and miraculous signs. He even caused fire to come down from heaven. These miraculous signs deceived the people. He ordered the people to set up an image of the first beast. He breathed life into the image so that it could speak. Everyone who refused to worship the image was killed. He forced everyone to take the mark of the beast on their right hand or forehead. Without this mark people were shut out of the marketplace.
It is interesting that the second beast had two horns like a lamb. This isn’t the first time we’ve read about a lamb in Revelation. In Revelation 5:6 we read,
6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (Revelation 5:6 NIV)
These images may be similar, but if you will be patient and listen you will easily recognize a dramatic difference between the two lambs. John tells us in Revelation 13:11 that the beast out of the land, who has two horns like a lamb, speaks with the voice of the dragon. The little Lamb of Revelation 5 speaks the Word of God, but the “lamb” of Revelation 13 speaks with the voice of the dragon. He is the “Lamb of Satan.”
I mentioned to you earlier that many Bible teachers have labeled this second beast as the “False Prophet.” Well, which is he? Is he a counterfeit of the Son or of the Holy Spirit? This really illustrates for us the nature of apocalyptic literature. Here, in Revelation 13:11 we see a parallel between the second beast and the Son, Jesus, but if we keep reading in Revelation 13 then we will see his actions as a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. I want you to know that the second beast is called the “False Prophet” a little later in Revelation. In Revelation 16:13 we read,
13 Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. (Revelation 16:13 NIV)
This second beast is called the “False Prophet” in Revelation 19:20; 20:10 as well. Where this can be confusing is that here in Revelation 13:11 he counterfeits Jesus, but in the rest of this vision he is a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. The reason I wanted to point this out to you is because apocalyptic literature is not an exact science. There are images and pictures that are mixed; we are not always able to place them neatly into categories. Let me give you another example of what I am talking about. In Revelation 5 we saw where no one was found who could open the scroll. John began to weep until we get to Revelation 5:5.
5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. (Revelation 5:5-7 NIV)
What is Jesus? Is He the Lion, the Root, or the Lamb? Yes He is! These are three very different images aren’t they? He is all three! Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, He is the root of David, and He is the Lamb of God! He’s all this and much more!
In the very next verse of Revelation 13 we see where the work of the second beast counterfeits the work of the Holy Spirit. Read along with me.
12He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. (Revelation 13:12 NIV)
I want to show you some of the ways that the work of the second beast parallels, parodies, or counterfeits the work of the Holy Spirit.
1) He desires that people worship the beast, not himself, just as the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, not Himself. In John 14:13-15 Jesus said,
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (John 16:13-15 NIV)
2) He works false miraculous signs, counterfeiting the miracles of the Holy Spirit.
3) He forces a mark on his subjects, just as Christians are sealed with the mark of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV)
Revelation 13:11-18, like all of Revelation has been interpreted in various ways throughout history. John MacArthur, who understands and teaches Revelation from a Futurist perspective, writes about Revelation 13:11-18.
Just as the false christs who have plagued mankind will culminate in the final Antichrist, so also will the false prophets culminate in a final false prophet (cf. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). He will be Satan’s last and most powerful lying deceiver. Along with Satan, the counterfeit of the Father, and Antichrist, the counterfeit of Jesus Christ, the false prophet will form the satanic false trinity. He will be the counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. The false prophet will be Antichrist’s partner in Satan’s massive final deception of the world. While Antichrist will be primarily a political and military ruler, he will also claim to be God. The false prophet will be his high priest, the religious leader who will lead people into the satanic religion of worshiping Antichrist. The false prophet will deify Antichrist and convince unbelievers that he is the only hope for the world’s salvation. (John MacArthur)
If you study history then you can easily see how there have been “beasts” who have set themselves up against God and His people throughout time. There are beasts today who continue to think that they can thumb their noses at God and use their power to crush their people for their own gain. There will come a final beast, but we know from our study of Revelation that his end will be the same as all of the little beasts who have come before him.
Let’s talk for a moment about false prophets. The false prophet of Revelation 13 is not a new phenomenon. John MacArthur writes,
The partnership between political and religious power exhibited by Antichrist and the false prophet will not be new. Jannes and Jambres, two false religious leaders, assisted Pharaoh in his confrontations with Moses and Aaron (2 Tim. 3:8). Balak, king of Moab, sought the false prophet Balaam’s help to destroy Israel (Num. 22–24). Ahab and Jezebel used the idolatrous priests of Baal to help them accomplish their evil purposes in Israel (1 Kings 18:17ff.). The Roman Empire united political and religious power by demanding that its subjects worship the state (personified as the goddess Roma) and the emperor. In modern times, communism, though officially scorning religion as the “opium of the people,” has in effect been a substitute religion for its adherents. (John MacArthur)
False prophets, be it in the days of Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, John, exiled on the island of Patmos, false prophets in our day, or in the days to come—they do not speak for God. They seek to draw attention, adoration and applause, for some cause other than the Kingdom of God. God has warned us, He has spoken to us, about those who speak persuasively and passionately. They may draw crowds, but they do not speak for God. In Deuteronomy 13:1-4 we read,
1If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. (Deuteronomy 13:1-4 NIV)
Just because someone is able to produce a “sign” or something wonderful doesn’t mean that they have been sent from God. God knows there are false prophets, He is testing us to see if we truly love Him with our heart and soul, or if we will chase every exciting and new message that comes our way. How do you know whether a speaker is speaking for God or not? Great question. You stay in the Word of God. The message of the false prophet will contradict God’s Word. They may quote Scripture, but with a slight twist or a new understanding.
God says don’t follow those who do miracles or produce wonders. What we read in Deuteronomy 13 took place in Egypt as God sent Moses and Aaron to speak to Pharaoh. Read along with me in Exodus 7:10-12.
10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. (Exodus 7:10-12 NIV)
Pharaoh’s sorcerers and magicians replicated the miracle of Aaron, but their miracle didn’t validate their authenticity did it? The snake from Aaron’s staff swallowed the snake of the sorcerers as a puny imitation. False prophets may produce flash and a flair for the dramatic, but we need to be discerning people. Jesus said,
15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 NIV)
In every generation God has warned His people to be aware of false prophets who will lead us astray if we let them. In Jeremiah’s day there was a proliferation of false prophets and once again God spoke to His people. Read along with me in Jeremiah 29:8-9.
8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:8-9 NIV)
Did you notice that? Jeremiah says, “Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.” We want to hear what we want to hear don’t we? We want those around us, we want our leaders to tell what we want to hear, but God says, “Don’t believe them! I have not sent them!” It is because of this mentality that the whole world was led astray in Revelation 13.
The miracle that we read about in Revelation 13:15 is that the second beast was given power to make the image, or statue, speak. S. Lewis Johnson, in his sermon on this passage of Scripture says,
That may seem very strange to us today, but in ancient days these types of miracles were frequently claimed. There were pious frauds that were practiced on the banks of the Tiber, in Italy, and they had their counterparts on the banks of the Euphrates. The image of the Virgin has been seen to have shed tears. You read about this in the paper. I’m not attacking the Catholic Church only, it is just an illustration of that. During the Civil War it was reported that ‘tears shed by gods, our country’s patrons, and sweat from Lyres, told the cities woes.’ Virgil also referred to the same when he said, ‘The weeping statues did the wars foretell, and holy sweat from brazen idols fell. In history you can find instances of statues pouring tears. Some of them even claim to be laughing and various other types of things. (S. Lewis Johnson, Revelation 13)
Dr. Johnson makes it plain to us that the image having supposed life breathed into him so that the people witness a miracle is nothing new. I read this past week that the false prophet will probably be able to pull this off by some kind of modern-day technology. If you’ve ever been to Disney World then you know that such a thing could happen, but Dr. Johnson reminds us that similar things have been reported for a long time.
Before we leave here this morning we’ve got to talk about the “mark of the beast.” Set in context we learn that nobody could buy or sell without this mark on their forehead or hand. Then in verse 18 we are told that to be able to calculate the number takes wisdom. Boy has there been a lot of wisdom shared through out the years. John writes,
18This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. (Revelation 13:18 NIV)
I mentioned to you in the opening of our study that many believe that a mark was required at some point to buy or sell things in the Agora under Domitian’s persecution. Throughout history there have been all kinds of guesses as to what this mark is and what the number 666 means. Some have said that the Social Security numbers we’ve all been given will usher in the beast, others have guessed that someday computer chips will be implanted in those who want to buy or sell, a TV prophecy guy, Jack Van Impe once said that the beast will use a vast computer network because “computer” in English figures out to be “666.” Some of you may be wondering how “computer,” a series of letters, can equal a number? You have to know that the system called, “gematria,” started with the Hebrews. They didn’t have numbers so they used letters to represent numbers. The same thing was used in the Greek and Latin language. Using this system many have identified Nero as the “666” of Revelation 13. Just to let you know, the number of Jesus in Greek is “888.” Throughout history John Calvin, Martin Luther, various Popes and Emperors, Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon, Ronald Reagan and many others have been identified as the “666” of their day. The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible says,
The number 666 falls short of the divine completeness of seven. By the time of Domitian, the earlier emperor Nero had become a traditional antichrist figure, and ‘666’ was probably already known to be the numerical value associated with the name Nero Caesar in Hebrew. Many have tried to identify the final antichrist on the basis of this number, but its connections with Nero and the symbolism of falling short of seven may well be its only significance. (Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, pg. 2071)
I read an interesting illustration this past week which parallels the idea of those in Domitian’s day as having to receive a mark after demonstrating their allegiance at the altar of Domitian. During the communist party’s hey day in Bulgaria, ration cards were issued by the state. One man living under the regime said,
You cannot understand and you cannot know that the most terrible instrument of persecution ever devised is an innocent ration card. You cannot buy and you cannot sell except according to that little, innocent card. If they please, you can be starved to death, and if they please, you can be dispossessed of everything you have; for you cannot trade, and you cannot buy and you cannot sell, without permission. (Cited in W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on Revelation [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969], 4:120–21)
That would be pressure wouldn’t it? I wonder, if we were living under those kinds of circumstances or the situation faced by the folks in Ephesus who had to worship the emperor if they wanted to buy or sell in the Agora, what would we do? Would we bow? Would we refuse to bow? I don’t know. I do know that there were many in Ephesus who refused to bow to the emperor. How did they make it? They trusted God.
Forty years after Domitian’s death, Ephesus was a thriving, predominantly Christian city. No money, no buildings, no budgets, no Christian book stores or radio stations and somehow the whole city got turned upside down for Jesus. What happened in Ephesus spread, it spread to Pergamum, and then to Thyatira, and then Laodicea, and on. Something happened that caused the people to lose their confidence in the emperors and a revolution took place. I wish we had those early Christians who watched the emperors lose their death grip on society with us this morning so that they could speak to us and give us some advice. What would they say? I bet they would say, “Don’t bow! Whatever you do, whatever you have to go through, whatever it costs you—don’t bow!”